This year has seen a mountain of tragedy, challenge, and longtime ongoing issues finally coming into focus for many – from mistreatment of immigrants and xenophobia, to war and trade, economic injustice, the impact of human-caused environmental change, access to healthcare, police discrimination and brutality, economic injustice, reverses in women’s and LGBTQ rights, for-profit mass imprisonment, international interference in democratic processes, white supremacists, and of course, the Covid pandemic – just to name a few.
But this is no random mountain of unrelated ills falling upon us (or arising out of us). So many of these are rooted in the same foundational sickness: our inability or unwillingness to see, accept, and act in accord with the truth of interconnectedness.
Referring to these challenges with such an approach may seem abstract at first, but this is no hippy-dippy, head in the clouds notion. The results of not having an interconnected perspective and mindset are as concrete and real as failing to observe important engineering principles when building a high rise – with consequences to match.
Perhaps the most obvious example of Nature hitting us over the head is the pandemic. Interconnectedness couldn’t be made more clear than the red lines drawn by viral propagation. Yet, our response to this has been one of division and ‘us/them’ thinking. We have moved against international coordination and opted for confrontation. We have proceeded under the fantasy that we can put our own nation “first” at the expense of other areas of the world, only to find that we leave those areas vulnerable to disease and other ills which inevitably come back to affect the health of our communities. This is only the most shallow and transactional of many kinds of impacts we could appreciate.
We have also opted for divisionism within our own communities, turning public health into politics. Our capacity to care for the well being of others is literally connected to our own well being right in front of our faces, but this is apparently not blatant enough for us. We demand respect for our rights from others, but without responsibilities to others.
And though there are many well-meaning people of the opposite persuasion, or who would be, much of this is driven by the powerful who use their vast resources to purposely disseminate false information to serve their economic ends. And this highlights the interconnectedness between the pandemic and severe economic injustice and inequality.
Such economic issues are not about ‘hating rich people’ or jealousy. They are about confronting an imbalance that mathematically impacts the stability of the entire system. Business owners and shareholders are seeing less profit because they have chosen to release less buying power for their own products back into the economy through wages and other benefits – like a leg hoarding blood and not sending it back to the heart. This is just one example of how doing the right thing, and the smart thing, are the same thing.
Because money is power, this accumulation of wealth has also lead to a power base that competes with the power of nations to execute the will of its own citizens in a democracy. And this prevents us from solving global, environmental, and justice challenges in holistic and effective ways.
These issues began long before 2020. The negative impact of 9/11 on the U.S. and the world was not chiefly due to the tragic deaths of three thousand people and the loss of several buildings and planes. Most of the negative impacts of 9/11 were from our reactions to it.
Suddenly, in America, it became a topic of serious question as to whether torture was ok. We began to think that our constitution was somehow inadequate to handle terrorists, and that suspension of their humanity and inalienable human rights was the way to go – but only for the terrorists. Previous notions of international law were thrown out the window and starting wars became routine, with the wave of a hand. We remain in a perpetual state of global war today, with the names and theaters isolated so that they seem like unrelated incidents.
And, because we ignored the interconnectedness of our treatment of ‘others’ and our own well being, too many of us did not see how the word “terrorist” would inevitably expand to mean more and more kinds of things, today including our own citizens. And along with that, the suspension of traditional rights. We didn’t see how occupying other nations would change our military culture from battlefield operations to one that trains and focuses on ‘urban occupation and control’, and how those techniques would find their way home. We didn’t see how our perpetual wars would lead to a flood of excess military hardware that would find its way into our civilian police departments – militarizing them and resulting in what often looks more like occupations of our own cities.
And long before 9/11 oppression and civil rights abuses have festered and interconnected with economics, power, policing, and criminal ‘justice’ to create a cocktail of instability that naturally affects everyone. This is why Dr. Martin Luther King said he wasn’t just marching for black children, but to help alleviate for white children the sickness they would inherit. “No justice no peace” is not merely some demand or threat from one group of people – it is a universal, inescapable, cosmic law.
A failure to see the fates of others as intertwined with the fates of our own is at the heart of so many of the problems we face today. It is at the heart of hatred and fear of immigrants. It is at the heart of racial discrimination and inequality. It is at the heart of our political divide.It is at the heart of economic depression and oppression. It is at the heart of war, hunger, death, and pestilence. The four horsemen ride in on a road paved in ignorance.
Our tendency is to read this with an eye on “those others” who do these things, and who should be the one reading things like this. But it may be that some in the world are simply not at that place where they are ready to hear. That’s why we must look to how we can be the catalyst to help bring them to that place. And so, this article is not about complaining about others, but about what is in our control. We may say we know about interconnectedness, but the more one grasps it, the more motivated one becomes to act upon it.
A lot of people, inspired by great writers like Carl Sagan, understand awe and wonder at the marvels of the natural universe. But those who investigate Spiritual Naturalism are suprised to find out that this kind of wonder is just the beginning. They can be blown away to discover that there is a lifetime of rich practice and thought behind a naturalistic approach to applied spiritual practice. Such a practice can have enormously transformative effects on who we are, our experience in the world, and our capacity to be effective in it.
Wise perspectives, like appreciation of interconnectedness, are fine to acknowledge intellectually. But spiritual practice and ritual is about coming to an intuitive grasp of wise teachings, which alter our deep perspectives and responses to the world over time. By engaging all of our senses we move from ideas to knowing.
The reason the Spiritual Naturalist Society focuses on these practices is because the inner transformation they cultivate is at the heart of transforming the world. And once again, the path to happiness is one in the same with the path to helpfulness. It is the operating system on which human civilization runs and from which it unfolds.
The Spiritual Naturalist Society works to spread awareness of spiritual naturalism as a way of life, develop its thought and practice, and help bring together like-minded practitioners in fellowship.